My mom was a stay at home mom, and she and my dad went through some pretty harrowing experiences, but I really don’t remember any specific bouts of unhappiness. Of course, sometimes she would be unhappy or sad, but not for extended periods of time, and mainly in the winter. I do think she may have had some mild seasonal depression, possibly struggled during menopause with the blues, and though we have never really talked about it, some anxiety, as well. She is a worrier, and knowing that now, and knowing some of the situations she found herself in, anxiety is probably something that was very real for her. Regardless, my childhood was happy, we were great friends, and I never had anything to worry or feel sad about.
I remember feeling different as a child. I never really quite fit in. I was young for my grade, and though I was mentally above my age group, I was socially behind. People were starting to have crushes on boys, and I was playing with Barbies. I frequently hung out with kids younger than me. I was the last one to mature, both physically and mentally. However, by the 8th grade I had a boyfriend, and we dated for nine months. It was a middle school record.
It was during middle school where I can really recall starting to have complex emotions. I remember this time as uncertain, confusing, and lonely. I suffered from low self-esteem and a lack of confidence. I remember strongly identifying with negative emotions, rather than positive ones. Not anger or hate, but sadness, melancholy, depression, and angst. I don’t remember much in general, I feel like my memories are not as strong as some of my friends and peers. But I do have two extremely vivid memories, one of me crying and crying and crying for a period of like 6 months, every day after school in my room with the lights off and the curtains drawn, and one of a 6th grade project. We were assigned to pick an emotion and do a study. We had to research the definition, the meaning, the history, the societal context, the literature…everything about the etymology of this particular emotion. We each had to pick different emotions. I chose sorrow and I got an A+. It was the highest grade in the class. It was the first time I felt positive reinforcement of that kind (though I do remember one time tricking the teacher into calling me to read out loud in elementary school by pretending to not pay attention). Maybe that’s why I became so academic – I felt like that was an identity that I could master.
I attributed my sorrow and my infatuation with sorrow to puberty. I started to express myself in poetry, and received accolades for my work in writing competitions in my school district. Looking back, I’m sure everyone who submitted won an award, but I was really proud of my “profound” understanding of the human struggle at the age of 12 and I would eventually have grandiose dreams in college of making a living as a poet. I exclusively wrote about sadness. What sadness had I felt at age 12? 17? 20? One thing is for certain, though. It’s not nearly a fraction or depth of the sadness and pain I have felt as an adult, but it’s sadness nonetheless. My views of sadness now are really not that different from the 12 year old who was published in a hand-bound collection of creative writing, passed out to proud parents of middle- schoolers who all would, of course, grow up to be famous authors. I just realized I still have those books.
But one particularly stands out:
She stares at the bridge, ready to jump
She thinks her life is one big dump.
She’s at the end of her rope, the end of the line,
The moment is gone, she has no more time.
No one knows her deep depression,
Her life, her love, antagonizing obsession.
There’s nothing left, she feels no more.
She’s tired complete, vigorously wore.
No one realized the threat of her disease,
She’s crying hysterically, she can’t think straight,
Only she can determine her life, her fate.
All the pressures of life are making it hard,
Her mind goes blank, memories charred.
She struggles, she fights, she kicks, she screams,
It’s like her life was one big dream.
She just gives up, she doesn’t care,
She is beginning, beginning to tear.
No one loves her she is alone,
They tease, they taunt, she has no true home.
The girl remembers, she gets so mad,
The memories, the reminders, make her sad.
In a flash the girl is gone from the ledge,
And it was only because she was pushed to the edge.
Regardless, sadness was not a new feeling to me. One particular thing in this poem stands out to me – my reference to depression as a disease. Even at a young age, I was very accepting to the fact that mental illness is an actual illness. Also commendable is that I wasn’t afraid to write about it and submit it to a school-district wide competition where it would be published and where I would have to read it on stage if it was chosen as a winner. I’m not sure where these ideas came from; it could be how I was raised, the fact that I was an avid reader and read any novel I could get my hands on, or the people I came into contact with. The important thing that remains is that this idea of mental illness and depression is a constant for me.
But the thing is, sadness did not just exist in middle school for me. It was not just puberty. I grew up, and I found that sadness was always close by. I felt inspired by sadness, loneliness; gut wrenching emotions of any type. When I was happy, I would sometimes will myself to be sad. Sometimes, I would get upset if I couldn’t cry. I felt like I was at my best when I was sad, especially creatively. Who wants to read about sunshine and rainbows, I asked myself? The real soul of humanity is in the exploration of love and loss, and pain and sorrow. Sometimes I have looked at "happy" people and thought of them as shallow and simple. Like they didn't push themselves enough to the brink of their emotional capability to fully embrace and appreciate life. Sometimes I wish I was a "happy"person. I have two dogs: one is dumb and happy, and one is troubled and sad. I feel a stronger connect with the troubled and sad one because she has seen a place that doesn't exists in the happy dog's world.
As an adult though, I don’t think I suffer from depression any more than the next person. I don’t ever feel like I am not good enough or don’t deserve happiness, which are common feelings Jeff has expressed feeling in his depression. I like sadness, I welcome sadness, I allow it to take residence inside of me because the feelings of low, lows allow me to feel high highs. And that ebb and flow has existed my whole life. As I write this, I can’t help but think of alcoholism and how sometimes I hear people say, “I was an alcoholic before I took my first drink.” I wonder if sometimes, when I feel so different from Jeff, if, looking back to middle school, we’re really not that different at all.
Want to read Jeff's side of the story? http://www.lifeimpaired.com/1/post/2014/01/the-d-word.html